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John Block Reports from Washington

RSS By: John Block, AgWeb.com

John Block has dedicated his professional career to the fields of agriculture, food and health.

California’s Preposterous Prop 37

Oct 18, 2012

On Election Day, California voters will decide on another food labeling ballot initiative, one that is being watched intently by the food industry. If it passes, the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, popularly known as Prop 37, would require genetically engineered foods to be prominently labeled as such and prohibit any processed food from being labeled as "natural" even if it is not genetically engineered. As with many ballot initiatives in California, Prop 37 is superficially appealing yet counter-productive from both a policy and economic standpoint.

Supporters of Prop 37 rely on the tried-and-true argument of the "consumer right to know." Asking Californians whether they want GMOs labeled is like asking a suburbanite "would you like a rose in your garden?" Obviously, everyone wants a rose for their garden and, unfortunately, many Californians will mindlessly support mandatory GMO labeling.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration establishes labeling requirements for foods nationwide. FDA requires all ingredients to be labeled and insists on special labeling if there are food safety or allergen concerns or other material facts that consumers need to know about an ingredient or product. FDA studied the question and has ruled, correctly, that crops produced through genetic modification do not require special labeling or attention.

Selective breeding and hybridization, first discovered by Gregor Mendel in the mid-1800s, have allowed farmers to produce many of today’s heartier, insect-resistant, more nutritious, and organoleptically desirable crops. GMOs, first introduced in 1995, are not much different from products produced by selective breeding. Instead of crossing two desirable genes from a pea, GMOs introduce a gene from a different species (for example, a fish) which enable a vegetable to be more weed or pest-resistant. New seeds like Monsanto’s DraughtGard® will help protect tomorrow’s most precious resource, water, and promote food security.

17 years later, GMOs appear safe and are dramatically contributing to food security and environmental protection. The concerns raised by the naysayers – those espousing the Draconian European "precautionary principle" – have not been realized. Non-scientific restrictions, including pejorative or scary labeling, of GMO crops are not warranted.

Vote NO on Proposition 37. Even the L.A. Times, never a bastion of moderate thinking, has come out against this ballot initiative. Unique labels for the California market will raise havoc in the food industry. If folks want to buy products that don’t contain GMOs, look for the "organic" label.


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COMMENTS (2 Comments)

Ric Ohge - Belmond, IA
As a former Secretary of Agriculture, I would hope you would be leading the charge to start real testing of this Technology. The average Voter or Farmer isn't a Bio-technologist, so they rely on the "Voice of Experience", like you, to lead the way through this infighting. The real problem with the existing technology is it's simply obsolete, as it was based on decades old understanding, conventional wisdom and science. We now know: (1) There is no "junk" DNA or RNA-shouldn't we find out what the rest of it does before we try to manipulate it's function, particularly in the light of a growing understanding that the processes in Cells, as they are in the rest of the universe, are happening on a Quantum scale. (2) Even Nanotechnology is evolving. We've now discovered that the SHAPE of a particle dictates function as well as it's inherent properties. (3) A recent experiment involving the bombardment of a strain of DNA with ions, showed that once the DNA lattice was removed, the remaining ions remained in the shape of the DNA Protein chain. We can now SEE particles on a sub-atomic scale. Cern's Great Hadron Collider, which had previously isolated the Higgs-Boson Particle, has, based on that discovery, found another unexpected new particle associated with it. Emerging Science and it's associated Technology is emerging on an accelerated scale. Biotechnology IS probably a great direction to move into. But with all the emerging problems, proven and needing to be investigated, it would be prudent for the companies like Monsanto to "mend their fences with their adversaries, get "down and dirty" once again with America's Farmers, and head back to the lab using the newest techniques, ideas and understandings to create the next generation of Bio-Tech that comes not only with a Patent, but with full assurances it will do what we want it to without the "side effects". Maybe as importantly, the "Petro-Dollar" is on the skids. If we could embrace ALL "flavors of Farming in America, once again, and make it the Economic Juggernaut it could be, maybe we could see a "Commodity Dollar" arise to replace it, thus securing America's place Global Leadership once and for all. Such a move would eliminate such issues as Prop 37, as the public trust would be assured.
9:37 AM Oct 25th
Ric Ohge - Belmond, IA
I demand to know what I pay for with my own hard-earned money. Only someone with something to hide would be concerned with that-got it?
10:51 AM Oct 19th

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